The party was saved by Bjar. Now they have to time to properly learn who he is. The Admins leave, the pressure drops, and is able to renew their efforts to get inside city walls.
The party sleeps deeply and dreamlessly. They wake up a bit sore in the late morning. Bjar is sitting, waiting in the room for them to rise. He's frying up something in a small pan on the coal-powered stove. Hardy pulls himself up to a seated position and then swings up on his knees to look. It's a porridge of grain and stewed rat.
Bjar has a plate that everyone can share and they all have a little to eat. They sit in a circle. Bjar introduces himself again and takes the time to describe where they are and provide some background about Ferran.
"I'm not sure where to start. I'd really like to know what you know, or who you are, or truthfully what you are, but manners say I go first."
Bjar describes where they are. "You're in Ferran, or I guess outside of it in the slums. This is the Sacot neighborhood. I know you want to head into Ferran. That will be difficult. But I might know a way."
"I've been inside Ferran. It's impressive, but it's not worth staying for long if you're not a Dwarf. It's got wide streets and ox-less carriages and big homes, at least in the non-industrial half. I go there regularly for business." The party asks what business, but Bjar won't say exactly what. "I'm a courier for stuff and information people want," he says.
"I'm able to enter by a special Coin. They're called 'P Coins' for 'Passage Coins' I took one and fixed it myself. I had to pay a little for some extra help, but you have to make sure everything's perfect. I don't carry it on me. It's too valuable. Sorry. They really do check them carefully if you're not a Dwarf."
"Dwarves are the only ones considered residents, outside of a number of special guests the Dwarves give access to. Everyone else must carry papers. They're easier to forget or steal, but you'll receive a lot more scrutiny and looking at all of you, you don't need that."
There's a longer pause, but Bjar continues. "But it's better to be here, outside the walls than inside the walls or worse, underground, digging, processing, and refining."
"There's a huge city underground, bigger than the one above. You wouldn't believe the size. At night, if you listen, you can hear the hum and feel the pulses under your feet. It never stops. I've never been down there but everyone around here has a story."
"If you want to know, find someone with some problem. They're all around. They'll have a story to tell. Most of the underground people have have never seen the sun, or the sky, or been outside the tunnels. They're born there, work there, and die there. The only way they can leave is if they're no longer useful and then they're dumped here. Some injure themselves so they can leave."
"I think that's all I want to say for now. And about you?", Bjar asks. He's very interested in the party's story.
The party provides their history the best they can, stating with the chambers upon the hill and their long journey to Ferran. Hardy, Balcazar, and Orryn alternative . Bjar soaks up everything. He listens intently and asks questions about locations and the farms outside of town.
It's a long conversation but everyone's satisfied. At the end Bjar thanks the party and pauses to think. He says he might be able to help the party with a set of Coins, but it won't be free.
"But," he adds, "I think we can make a deal."
Bjar's offer is this: he has some business he'd like to gain with from one of the nearby business centers but he needs extra muscle. He needs someone to stir things up, create a problem that he can solve.
Bjar provides the location. The place is call the "Duck-feast Inn". It's a twenty minute walk, closer to the exterior great wall. There's a tunnel that dumps from the city into the slums. It's for Dwarves only.
"There are a lot Dwarves that enter and leave the area daily, some famous ones." Bjar says. "There are a lot of shops and restaurants for them, but that's not why they're there. Underground is where everything happens. They're more comfortable with dirt above their head. The ground floor of the Inn is just a big restaurant. It's OK food, but it's there just to give everyone an excuse if they're caught."
"You get underground and you can pick off whomever you want. They're usually drunk or high or with escorts and there are are lot of isolated, individual rooms to do what you need to do to."
"It will be difficult," Bjar says. "You'll need to bluff your way in past the back check, and then sneak or overwhelm whatever guards are protecting the spaces downstairs. I'd recommend you case the place for a few days until you're comfortable."
"You stir things up, I'm happy. Kill a couple Dwarves, I'm happy."
Day 49 - 54
The party packs up and Bjar leads the party through the slums back to a main road. He tells the party to look for the small blue banner of "Duck-feast Inn". He says it's up ahead.
From a safe distance he gives the party instructions of how to proceed, where to hide, where the best rooftop locations are to watch people come and go. He pulls out a rough map he's drawn on canvas pointing out their current location and the location of the safe house. "If you need me" he says, "leave a note at the safe house. I usually stop by once a day. You can sleep there if you want, but I wouldn't sleep there for more than one night in a row."
Bjar leaves them on the street. He won't proceed further. So the party walks on, past the area they're supposed to monitor, and as they pass through they see the small sign with the words written in common: "Duck-feast Inn". Two large humans in leather armor are sitting on benches on both sides of the door. Outside of the obvious protection, no other features distinguish the entrance.
The party begins their surveillance.
It takes the party the remainder of the day and the next to find positions with good line of sight but without obvious exposure. With the new locations, they finally settle in a rhythm, trading shifts. They beginning to see patterns, common faces and habits, Dwarves that come back on alternative days, some that come every day and look barely held together despite their attempts at camouflage with fine silk and cotton clothing, oblivious to anything but the front open door inviting them in. They're waved directly in by the guards.
The party also spots, on consecutive days, the face of a Human woman, who appears to have noticed the party, and who seems to be specifically around to monitor them. Hardy and Balcazar ask Orryn to monitoring her, and he confirms everyone's suspicions. She walks past three or four times a day and looks to see if the party is around. It wouldn't be obvious to a common person. It is to the party.
The party is concerned. The next day, when she appears, Orryn sneaks up behind her, and leaps to confront her.
She is startled but not scared. She steps back from Orryn and mutters an incantation. Her face is badly afflicted. Her forehead bursts with a glazed off-center eye.
"If you get any closer, I'll kill you. What do you want?"
Orryn asks why the hell she's following them, and she says she's just making sure you're doing what you're supposed to do.
Her name is List. She's a gutter dweller. She has no permanent home. She lives day to day, living on odd jobs, running missions for money. She says she's under contract to watch the party, and freely and without coercion admits the name of one who hired her is Bjar. She has worked for him several times.
Orryn's angry. He leaves List and walks off to tell the rest of the party, and together they head back to the safe house to wait for Bjar to show up. He does in the late afternoon, this time with List.
Bjar walks in. "I know I'd find y'all here. I guess you've met List."
The party wants to know what the hell Bjar's doing, and Bjar says that he can't trust anyone, and that "List was only there to ensure you were doing your job, which it looks like you were. You should get to know her. She knows what she's doing."
After some convincing by Bjar, the party calms down. List says she'll meet up with them tomorrow.
Balcazar, Orryn, and Hardy try and find a place to stay for the evening.
Days 55 - 58
List works with the party over the next few days. She knows the area well, appears to be a capable mage or sorcerer of some sort, and she gradually integrates into the party.
On a trip back to their observation points, community signalling alerts the party the Ferran soldiers are in the area. They move to investigate. Five or six different Dwarves, in full Scout and warmage clothing are milling around an open space in the intersection between two roads.
They've blocked off the area. Two of the mages are pulling a thick, braided metal cord from a chest and dragging it into a circle.
List says "shit." She knows they're laying out a teleportation circle. They only do so to teleport in the big search teams. She knows it's best to the hell out of this area. List says we need to talk to Bjar. We'll probably have to abort for the day.
List knows a few locations of where Bjar might be and the rest of the party follow her back into the jungle of buildings and through multiple neighborhoods. They peek into a few abandoned rooms from the street and ask around. She has success at a two-story hovel. There's a light branch lying against the building. She picks it up and uses it to play a quick pattern on the window sill above her head. A human looks out, sees List, closes the window. A minute later, the same man opens the door, and gesture them in, they walk into a room and up to the second story. Bjar's there, reading and sitting among piles of papers, and is surprised to see them.
The party lets Bjar know what's going on. He's concerned, but appreciates the party bringing him the news.
Bjar says there's a good change that the Admins are there for the party and that they'll will likely have to escape, really escape. He provides a detailed route to an tunnel that he's used before.
Everyone promises to be careful. List brings them back to the location of the summoning circle to see what's going on. They keep their distance.
They arrive and pick a position well down the street, two hundred yards away. The circle has been constructed. The warmages have gathered around its periphery. The area is dead outside of the presence of the Admins. The Humans have scattered. One of the mages walks to the interior of the circle and sprinkles green dust, the same color as the rock Orryn found and picked when they first appeared in the Plains.
Chanting begins. A minute later, the mages simultaneously shout and the interior of the circle fills with dark light. Out of the pulse walk two Tracker Hounds and their handlers. As soon as List sees them and sees the first hound stiff the air and start its trained routine of identification and apprehension, she tells the rest of the party that we really need to get out of here. They're looking for magic.
A hound pauses, nose in the air. It tilts its head and looks down the street and in the direction of the party. It moves into a trot. Its handler follows.
The party twist into a side channel and pull themselves onto a first floor roof and then a second floor. They're certain they've shook the hounds, and moved out of range of whatever the hell they're sniffing, but then, a metal bang and the sounds of a heavy animal in motion somewhere behind.
List asks, "What the hell on you is so damn magical? How they hell are they finding us? I've walked by them before without even a sniff." Balcazar, Hardy, and Orryn have no idea. They break out into a run and try to distance themselves.
From behind the party can hear the hound's weight on the thin roofs. Bjar has provided them with an escape route, and it's looking more and more likely that they'll need to use it. List takes point, her memory is excellent, and she moves further out of the Hound's range and down a cascading set of buildings over a sharp embankment. They arrive at the dead end of a street. Chunks of home-construction debris are propped up against the end wall. List goes up, peaks behind a couple of large chunks of concrete and gestures towards the party.
There's a small access tunnel. They push themselves in, it's a hard fit, and pull themselves along. Ten feet of tough, dirty scraping and they fall into a large tunnel, comfortably wide enough for the entire party to walk upright and abreast. The tunnel looks Dwarven made, although unfinished. The floor is dirt and stone. The party brushes themselves off and continue on.
They walk for a half mile. Orryn, the underground environment straining his scouting intuition, believes they're heading towards and under the city walls, due West. They're looking for an escape, some way of getting back up the surface without returning to the same point they entered.
A uneventful walk of low conversation is interrupted by a narrow chasm, a near right-angle to their path, a seven-foot cut in the ground. It should be an easy leap. As they approach they hear the sound of rushed water. They look over the edge.
There's a churning stream of white green fluid below pounding from a break in a five-foot diameter pipe. The top of the pipe is blown open. The chasm appears to have been abruptly carved by the force of the effluent. The smell and spray makes them itch. It's mildly caustic.
As they back up to make the leap, they head voices in the far distance, carried along by the stone tunnel. The move back and away from the noise of the stream to listen better. List is able to discerns the voices. She says they sounds Dwarven. They're yelling some sort of instruction.
Orryn decides he'll head back and cross first. He runs forward. Then trips and falls, face first in the gap. Balcazar goes second, jumps, clears the distance, and then in careless celebration, slips back and down. List, doesn't believe she can make the jump and decides to jump down into the effluent.
The walls are slippery and the party is having difficulty climbing up. There's nothing above to throw a hook two. Hardy tries to help from above but slips and falls in with the rest. He climbs on Balcazar's shoulders to try and pull himself out but can't get a good handhold. The spray has made everything slick.
The stumble in the liquid, trying and failing to escape back to the main tunnel path. The voices are getting louder. The guess they have five to ten minutes before they arrive.
Then alongside the voices, they hear the low grunts of the hounds. They've followed the party. Options are narrowing. They have two choices: fight or flee. The look straight up at the ledge.
List says, I'm not staying. She lowers herself into the pipe. It's half full, her eyes are burning, but she pushes up and out of sight. "Clean is upstream" she yells back.
The party doesn't know if the Dwarves looked into the pipe. It's loud, dark, and caustic. If they crawl, they drown, but the pipe is too narrow to stand. They walk hunched, body into the current, face turned to avoid the splashes of liquid that burn their skin and eyes.
The true distance of travel was fifty feet, but it felt like a mile. The pipe ends in a circular basin in a dark column. The party is able to stand up, but the space is completely blank. List can't see anything. Neither can Balcazar. But Hardy and Orryn both have Darkvision. They look around. Effluent falls from above onto thin that fans that arbitrary deflect liquid into side chambers, or shake streams into atomized sprays. There's the occasional bright sound of the tumble of hard objects. They're diverted to into catch box located at chest level with the party.
Hardy reaches in. It appears to be some sort of catch for magic items caught in the system. Hardy removes the following treasure: Bag of Holding, a Flask of Stone Solvent, a Flask of Potion of Healing, and a Thieves Key. Hardy briefly opens the bag of holding and is knocked back by a full burst of effluent that had been caught and stored in its full inner volume.
Balcazar is pent up. There is no exit. He can't see. It's a large coffin of watery death. The leather straps on armor have begun to pit in the wash of liquid. He takes out his large warhammer and smashes it against the chamber wall.
The reverberation deafens the party—the ring continues in Hardy's ears long after the blow—but the hit goes through the side wall leaving a hole through the chamber wall and a straight beam of ambient light enters the chamber. One by one they peak out.
It looks like they're inside a large processing center of pipes and chambers. Above is rough rock, far below is a polished concrete floor. They're well above the ground. The space is empty.
Balcazar puts his hammer in the hole and pulls. Hardy joins. The party, with effort gradually widens the hole to a diameter large enough to exit. They step through onto a narrow ledge, and survey the metal landscape of chambers and pipes and catwalks.
They take a while to survey the space. Orryn finally spots life, a lone Dwarven figure among ground machinery and massive pipes. It's a Dwarf, unarmed. List locks on. She says it might be an engineer.
The room is loud and bright. Remaining hidden with all the distraction is easy. They descend the ground. The pipes and support structures have easy handholds. The party approaches.
When within range, Balcazar breaks into a sprint. He tackles the Dwarf. He smashes into the ground. Balcazar pins him. The party gather around.